How to get rid of spyware

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I remember years ago, when there weren’t people in the world who wanted to destroy your computer with a virus. Sure, there were bad people out there; they were just doing other things.

Now, there are still people that want to infect your computer, but mostly for a different purpose. They don’t want to destroy it, they want to profit from it. This is a big function of spyware. It’s also called “malware”, which is short for malicious software.

How can someone make money by putting a malicious program on your computer? Here are a few ways:

1. Install a browser hijacker – this means that every time you open Internet Explorer or Firefox, it doesn’t go to your home page. It goes to a different home page, such as a casino or a porn site. If a million people have that as their home page, some percentage will eventually click and buy something.

2. Install a keylogger – this is a program that runs in the background and records all of your keystrokes into a hidden text file. Then that text file is sent back to the creator of the program. This gives usernames, passwords, credit cards, anything you entered on the keyboard.

3. Install a rogue anti-spyware program. I have dealt with this on several computers recently. This means that several windows will keep popping up and telling you about the hundreds or thousands of viruses or threats on your computer that you need to remove. The warnings always sound very serious and look quite official. And all you have to do is pay $29.95 to register the full version of the program, and it will take care of those problems for you. Many people do pay just because they are scared and don’t want to take any chances. This is a big money maker.

Bottom line: you want to make sure your computer does not have any of this junk. A little while back I started using a program called Malwarebytes Anti-Malware and it does a great job.

This program will do a scan of your computer and find the stuff that should not be there. Then it deletes it for you. Whatever it finds, you should get rid of.

When you first run it, you will have these two options: quick scan or full scan.

When I am working on a computer, I usually have it do the quick scan first and get rid of that stuff, then run a full scan afterward (a full scan will take quite a while, depending on how much data is on your computer). When I am working on a computer that is infected, this is the usually the first program I will run to diagnose the problem.

Malwarebytes Anti-Malware does not require an annual subscription or renewal – it’s a one-time cost of $24.95 (get it here). There is a free version, but it requires you to remember to run it on a regular basis. Bad idea. If your antivirus didn’t do a regular scan, how often would you remember to do it? For $25 the program will always run in the background and keep the garbage from getting in your computer to start with, rather than just finding it after you’re already infected.

For those of you using the AVG antivirus program (as I do), you know it does include an anti-spyware component. However, it does not detect all types of antispyware (such as browser hijackers and rogue antispyware programs). Malwarebytes is a good complement to AVG to make sure you are fully protected.

This week’s video: Apparently some radio station had a contest called “World’s Biggest”, and people sent in video clips along that theme. This guy sent in a video demonstrating his homemade alarm clock. I don’t know of anyone that could sleep through that.

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July 13th, 2009

Hi Scott,
Thanks a million for the Malware tip. I and my wife have used AVG now for a long time and like it very much as it is so unobtrusive and easy (and fast) to update and use. Still, I took your advice and bought Malware and it found a bad cookie in my computer that had somehow slipped past AVG. So, I bought it for my wife's computer also and it found 3 trojan horses in hers! This in spite of the fact that we both update AVG daily and scan usually at least once a week or so. Malware is also unobtrusive and quick to update and quick scan and it offers a lot of flexibility in automatic scheduling. It seems to be a great program.

Your advice on this is excellent, as it always is on other matters. Keep up the good work.


August 18th, 2009

Hi Scott:
Thanks for your help with my hijacked email address book problem. As a Comcast customer I have free McAfee Security and I also have Spybot Search N Destroy as well as Ad-Aware downloaded on my computer. None of these found any problems on my computer. When I found out my address book was taken and used, a friend who received a bogus email checked Google and found the culprit to be a Chinese company with lots of bad reviews. I took your advise and uninstalled McAfee Anti-Virus and I downloaded Malwarebytes and AVG. I performed a full scan with Malwarebytes and it found 15 items that were missed by my other security systems. Of the 15 items found, one was a trojan, several were rogue.registry items, 2 were listed as Disabled.Security and 2 were Adware.PopCap, whatever they are. I notified everybody in my address book of the bogus email they all received and hopefully with the removal of the above listed items by Malwarebytes, my computer is now back to normal. Thanks again for your assistance in helping me resolve these issues. Your expertise is appreciated.

Scott Johnson
August 18th, 2009

Glad to help! We have to always stay a step or two ahead of the bad guys!